Creators, Makers & Doers: Karen Woods

Posted on 6/24/15 by Arts & History


With an impressive exhibition history, ranging from galleries in Boise, Boston, Los Angeles, Indianapolis and New York City, Karen Woods is very modest and humble when discussing life as an artist. She works full-time as a painter in her studio, which she shares with three other artists. Staying motivated, working hard and often, knowing where to focus energy and being surrounded by supportive people, all play critical roles in her success.

Are you a full-time artist or do you have another job?

I don’t have another job, so yes I am a full-time artist. I’m trying to put this honestly, when I have a deadline I work a lot, but on average five to six hours is a work day for me. So it’s about full time. I had two consecutive shows, one here and one in L.A. in January and February and so since September, I was working six days a week and long days. So now, I have the luxury of shortening those a little bit. I was pretty creatively depleted after pushing so hard. So, yeah, an average of five to six hours to sum it up. I would call myself full time. There’s more and more computer things to do as far as record keeping and doing stuff like that. All the paperwork kind of things, there’s more of that now than there used to be. For me, that can cut into painting time.


What drives you to paint urban traffic as your subject matter and do you think you’ll be drawn to a different subject matter down the road?

I don’t quite know why I do that. I’ve never been very good at figuring that out. I can suggest that maybe it’s the two-dimensional / three-dimensional thing that I like streetscapes so much and rainy windshields. It could be that it’s some metaphor for something, that things look pretty awful up ahead or that they look pretty good up ahead. Or it’s a love for just the everyday things that I see around me that I want to communicate to other people. It’s just that there’s something in there that I need to find and I’ll keep looking.

Where do you sell your work?

Through the Stewart Gallery here in town and then she (Stephanie Wilde) directed me toward another gallery, George Billis, who is in Los Angeles and New York. I was also approached by another gallery that’s in Boston and Nantucket and so I show there, too. Then there’s a little one in Connecticut that has had my work there but I don’t think they… I’m on their list but I don’t think they keep a lot of my work around. So because of all that … a lot is expected of me as far as sending work out so that galleries have fresh stuff. It’s a different kind of pressure then I had before. Before it was trying to get people to look at my work and now the pressure that I feel is to keep my vision honest and have integrity and yet a strong work ethic to be able to have a professional career and live up to those expectations that are out there.

Do you sell you work on line too or only through your galleries?

Only through the galleries, ethically speaking I don’t want to do anything behind their backs which I wouldn’t so if I were to sell something it would be through them. That’s kind of the understanding that we have. Also I’m terrible at all that kind of stuff, all the business end, marketing, trying to sell something, there are people who are very good at it. And I wish I were one of those people but I am not, so I am happy to leave that to the galleries and just work more. It’s a time consuming thing. I mean even online with shipping and trying to get social media, there’s some pressure to just be more exposed that way—and that just is so not my personality. I’m too introverted even online to do something like that.


What keeps you in Boise?

What brought us here was my husbands’ work. We moved in 1994. He was hired at Boise State; he teaches Asian History there. So, that was how we arrived here and raised our son. That’s technically what keeps us here. The city I think now keeps us here. We have developed a community of friends and relationships that tie us to here and quality of life. It’s just beautiful and it is a very comfortable place to be because you can pick your pace of life. You can have a very slow paced rural type of life or you can have a very fast-paced life. Boise seems to accommodate lots of different lifestyles. It works for us. As a painter here it works for me very well. In a bigger city, to have studio space like this would just not be feasible. I’m able to work much more and better here.

Where do you find inspiration?

Lots of different places. Direct inspiration comes from the photographs that I take as I drive around here or where ever else I happen to be. So that is maybe the most direct answer. Live music inspires me. I’m inspired by Jeff (Krueger) and Gina (Phillips) (her studio mates) their work ethic, how they approach their art and just being around them and having that kind of accountability and fellow studio partners.

I’m inspired by artists who seem to blur the distinction or ignore the distinction between abstract and representational art. Gerhard Richter would probably be the most famous one but Christopher Brown, Chuck Clouse even, Per Kirkeby is in the Netherlands or Belgium maybe. Let me think, who else? There are quite a few who play with that representational verses abstract quality. Two dimensional, three dimensional and kind of go back and forth and I really like that. It suits my own sensibility because I think that’s what draws me to looking out of a windshield is that two dimensional verses three dimensional kinds of space and so I like artists that play around with that. Molly Hill did that beautifully and Charley Gill does that too, he’s very smart about it.



Do you feel like Boise’s art community is thriving?

It depends on what you mean by community. I think there are artists thriving who are just doing incredible work. I think there are galleries working very hard to exist and to promote the artists that they have. I think the co-op galleries are doing an incredible job of just hanging in there. I think that it’s hard for Boise to support all the artists that it has. I’m thinking not in the sense of buying work as much as… Well yeah, no I should say that in terms of buying work. We have collectors here that are very passionate and I’m grateful for them, but I do think that because of Boise’s geographical isolation, it just makes it hard. It’s a small pool, so most artists I think are better off if they can get some type of artwork out of town, to be seen out of town. It’s a hard thing to get started up, but it’s really helpful to have more than one gallery. For me it has helped me immensely to get my work out on both coasts. So I would say yes and no. It is thriving.

Do you have any tips or inspiring words for other artists?

Every time I’ve been about to quit or when I think nobody cares whether I do this or not—which has been often—people have told me not to quit. I’ve kind of surrounded myself with people who keep me from quitting. Whether that’s artists or family, my husband is always quick to say, “Don’t quit we’ll have this conversation in another year and then if you still want to quit we’ll talk about it again.” And that has kept me going. Having that support system is vital for me, because as much drive as I have, it’s something I have to do.

I would also say, give yourself time to develop. It’s taken me a long time. I’m a slow person to get here, I’m 52 and it took me a long time just to get warmed up to be working at where I am now. Another thing is share studio space if you can, because it helps with accountability and it helps with encouragement. It helps when people know whether you show up or not, whether you’re there and being with people who know you and know how to talk with you about your work.

Creators, Makers, and Doers highlights the lives and work of Boise artists and creative individuals. Selected profiles focus on individuals whose work has been supported by the Boise City Dept. of Arts & History.


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    Tatiana Vlasova says:

    Dear Karen,

    Please don’t quit! You are so special, and your way of Art is very interesting, outstanding, such a unicum you are! I am so proud to have one of your wonderful work that I bought at Art Festival in Dallas, Texas several years ago. Hope to go to Boise and see you and your new works some day! Good luck and … again – don’t quit!
    Tatiana, photographer
    Moscow, Russia